Ukraine Liveblog Day 136: A New Chance For Ceasefire And A New Defense Minister

July 3, 2014
A pro-Russian rebel stands at a checkpoint outside Krasnodon in the Lugansk region Photo: EPA via The Telegraph

Yesterday’s liveblog can be found here. For an overview and analysis of this developing story see our latest podcast.

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Pro-Russian Separatists Say Their Fighters’ Death Toll Reaches 1,000

Russian-backed separatists fighting in southeastern Ukraine have not
always been willing to acknowledge the extent of casualties and
mortalities in battle. Frequent gunfire and disruption in communications
have made it difficult both to count and to bury the dead.

But last week, a spokesman for the self-proclaimed “Donetsk
People’s Republic” (DPR) held a press conference where he made some
frank admissions; separatists have had trouble counting their dead in
the chaos of frequent battles, but they still are certain that at least
1,000 have already been killed. It’s important to note that this video
was posted before the latest iteration of Ukraine’s anti-terror
operation (ATO). In contrast, Ukraine’s National Defense and Security
Council reports that the Ukrainian military has only lost 200 men since the start of the ATO.

The Interpreter has translated part of the important press conference in a separate feature:

Russian Orthodox priest and sniper preside over a group burial of separatists killed in battle in Slavyansk on 10 June 2014. Screen grab from video by LifeNews
Today There Is No Ceasefire As Violence Intensifies

There is heavy fighting across large parts of eastern Ukraine. We’ll try to chase down as many stories as we can. So far, the most disturbing we’ve seen involves an incident where a ten year old girl has been injured and her parents killed. RFE/RL reports:

Ukrainska Pravda reports that pro-Russian separatists used projectile explosives to blow up a family car traveling near the village of Kryva Luka near Kramatorsk. A 10-year-old girl sustained serious injuries; both of her parents were killed.

Civilian casualties are also reported in a village not far from Lugansk where the Russian-backed separatists (and Russian state TV) reports that the government is responsible for the deaths of the non-combatants.

This report is from RT. For the most part, Russian media now make up the bulk of the reporters who are still in some of these villages. There’s two reasons for that. The first — the Russian media is working very closely with the rebels at a time when those same rebels have detained other journalists, such as the two Hromadske TV journalists who were released yesterday. The second reason is that these areas are now the focus for Ukraine’s military and it’s dangerous to report from the front lines.

While there is no evidence that the reports of civilian casualties in these areas are false, RT does make an interesting claim. While traveling on a bridge that is guarded by an armed separatist checkpoint, RT’s Maria Finoshina says that the checkpoint is ten kilometers away from where the bombs (or shells, it’s not clear) fell that killed the civilians. Interestingly, this matches what Kiev authorities said yesterday — and they claimed that they were not conducting airstrikes anywhere near this area, but that the separatists are shelling the villages. Without additional evidence, however, it’s not possible to verify either claim.

UPDATE: a reader points out that one of the residents says that a ‘self-defense’ base is only 3 kilometers away from where the explosions happened.

RIA Novosti has also published pictures that they shows the damage done to civilian homes in and around Lugansk and Kramatorsk. The gallery can be viewed here.


A Quick Guide To The Proposed Ceasefire

Yesterday’s big news was that there would be a new potential ceasefire in the east (read yesterday’s liveblog for extensive coverage and analysis). Here are the key points:

1) The ceasefire agreement is tentative, negotiated between Ukraine, Russia, and several key players in Europe as part of a commission created by Ukraine’s new president Petro Poroshenko.The separatists have no direct representative at that meeting, so they would need to agree to the plan before any ceasefire would be declared.

2) It would not go into effect until Saturday at the earliest. Effectively, what happened yesterday was an agreement to a roadmap for a ceasefire. On Saturday the next meeting will be held to discuss implementation.

3) A key part of the plan is that Russian and Ukrainian border guards will secure the border and establish checkpoints. That process will be monitored by the OSCE.

4) The OSCE will also monitor to see if both sides are abiding by the ceasefire.

5) At the rate that Ukraine’s military is moving, the Russian-backed gunmen might has a serious problem on their hands before any ceasefire is agreed to.

Poroshenko Appoints New Defense Minister

Late yesterday there was an announcement of a breakthrough, as Russia, Europe, and Ukraine reached a preliminary agreement that could lead to a new ceasefire as early as Saturday. The announcement, of course, also came along with the news of the rapid advance of Ukraine’s military in the east.

Today Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko has appointed both a new defense minister and a new head of general staff today.The Moscow Times reports:

Poroshenko told deputies on Wednesday night that he wanted Valery Heletey, a 46-year-old colonel-general who heads security at the presidential and parliamentary administration, to replace acting defense minister Mykhailo Koval, his website said.

He also appointed lieutenant-general Viktor Muzhenko, 52, a top official in the military drive against the rebels, to replace Mykhailo Kutsyn as head of the general staff.

Poroshenko was expected to seek endorsement for Heletey’s nomination at a session of parliament on Thursday. But debate on “decentralization” proposals for the regions, which is part of his peace plan, ran into trouble when a key coalition partner came out against them.

Heletey is famous for being the chief guard for former President Viktor Yushchenko. He is also a key player in the anti-terror operation, and it is possible that he is being selected because Ukraine’s military has been too timid so far, at least in the eyes of Ukraine’s new president. Kyiv Post reports:

In 2012 he was appointed deputy chief of military command headquarters and in May 2014 he became as deputy head of anti-terrorist operation, which Ukraine launched to fight the armed separatists on the east.

Speaking in parliament, Poroshenko also slammed corruption within army procurement. “We must clear the army of those who are parasailing, pumping budget financing out of it,” he said.